A few weeks ago a reader asked about tips on having a suit altered. As often happens, this came up in the comments to a post – some of the best information is in there!
I always recommend having a suit altered of course, if you have bought it off the rack. A couple of small changes to the waist of the jacket or line of the trousers can make a huge difference to the overall look.
In this hugely popular post from 2009 I went through how to buy a suit if you intend to have it altered, and then some possible alterations. Today, I want to run through some top tips on the process. Please add your own in the comments if I don’t cover them.
1. Avoid cutting the buttonholes
The buttonholes on a sleeve are one of the biggest barriers to having a suit altered. If they are working buttonholes – so the cloth has been cut to allow the button through – then the sleeve can only be shortened or lengthened so much before it starts to look silly. The buttons either get too close to the end of the sleeve or too far away from it.
This is why bespoke tailors, particularly Anderson & Sheppard, usually only had two of the buttonholes working. It meant you could alter the sleeve if you handed the jacket down to your son or nephew. Of course, you can alter the sleeve from the shoulder as well, but this is more expensive, harder (easier for a poor tailor to mess up), and impossible on checked jackets.
So when you’re buying a suit to be altered, check whether all the buttonholes have been cut. Ideally, one or two of them won’t have been. And if there’s any chance of the suit being handed on, then leave one or two of them uncut.
2. Bring in things you like
Having a suit altered is almost as difficult as commissioning a bespoke suit in terms of style. How narrow do you want the trousers? How short do you want the sleeves?
An easy way to guide the tailor is to bring in a jacket you like the style of. They will get a good idea of the required measurements that way, or even why you think the sleeves are narrow, but aren’t that much. Perhaps the lapels seem too broad to you, but it’s more a question of the narrowness of the shoulder.
Another good idea is just to remember the measurements you like, in numbers or short hand. I know the sleeves of a jacket should always stop at my wrist, for example, while the shirt stops at the base of my thumb. And my trouser measures are 1815 – 18-inch knee and 15-inch bottom. Not a difficult date to remember if you like your history.
3. Remember which brands have good inlay
If you’re going to make any part of a suit bigger, you require inlay – the excess material on the inside of seams that allows them to be expanded.
The amount of inlay varies surprisingly between suit brands. There’s no end to the ways brands will cut costs if they can, and getting rid of inlay is one of them. You wouldn’t think it saves any money, but on thousands of suits it does.
There’s no easy way to check for the amount of inlay, but if you have one suit altered and the inlay is good, remember it. (And if anyone has come across brands that had very poor inlay, please let us know.)
4. Don’t do too much
Losing weight and having suits altered is great. It will make you look better as well as feel better. But don’t do too much.
You can usually take four inches out of the waist of a jacket before it starts to fundamentally alter the look. Ideally it shouldn’t be more than two or three, but it will vary with styles.
When considering how much the look of the jacket is being changed, run your eye up and down the side of the jacket – from shoulder, through waist, to the bottom of the skirt. That should be a smooth and elegantly flowing line. Get too much altered – or a too-sharp nip of the waist – and the line is ruined.
5. Alter the waist and the legs, not the shoulders and the waist
A reader mentioned this point on the previous post, but it bears repeating. When you have a choice between a pair of trousers that fits on the waist or one that fits on the legs, go for the former. (Equally, pick a jacket that fits on the shoulders rather than the jacket waist.)
Think about what is easiest to change. The waist of a pair of trousers is a lot more complicated than the legs. There are curved seams, there is lining, there are pockets that could look weird. Legs are just one long seam.
Pictured: Hardy Amies ‘Signature’ bespoke jacket and trousers being fitted. Cutter Will Adams behind. More on the service when it re-starts later in the year